Illinois’ Only Crosstown Series

When Major League Baseball held its first World Series in 1903, the league was made up of 16 teams all concentrated in the northeastern quarter of the nation. Five cities were home to multiple teams, and over the years some of the greatest World Series moments came from cross-town series: the hapless St. Louis Browns’ one taste of success, winning the American League pennant in 1944 (before being swept by the Cardinals in the Series), the Brooklyn Dodgers finally breaking through and winning a title in 1955, Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees the following year.

But MLB’s very first crosstown series happened right here in Illinois in 1906, when the White Sox bested the Cubs in six games.

The 1906 championship was to be MLB’s third World Series, and the first one played west of the Appalachians. It featured a matchup between the heavily-favored Cubs, who had dominated the National League by winning an MLB record 116 games that year, and the so-called “Hitless Wonder” White Sox, who had managed to grab the American League pennant despite having the lowest batting average in the league.

Led by Hall of Fame player-manager Frank Chance, the Cubs had blazed into the World Series in 1906, taking the National League pennant by 20 games over the second place Giants, the defending world champions. Cubs hitters had slugged 20 home runs that year; second only to the Brooklyn Dodgers; in a powerless age that is now known as the “Dead Ball Era” of baseball history. Third baseman Harry Steinfeldt who batted .327 that year with three home runs, was the team’s top hitter along with catcher Johnny Kling (.312) and Chance (.319). Outfielder Frank Schulte swatted seven home runs to lead the team.

On the mound, another future Hall of Famer, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown put up an astounding 26-6 record that year, with a microscopic 1.04 earned run average. Jack Pfeister also won 20 games for the Cubs in 1906.

Mordecai Brown
The White Sox, meanwhile, had endured a tougher road to the Series. They had limped into June at 15-19. Still nine games out of first place in late July, the Sox had suddenly gotten hot: rattling off a 19-game winning streak in August to grab command of the top spot in the standings. But they slipped back into second place in September, and did not clinch the pennant until the final week of the season.

Second baseman Frank Isbell hit a respectable .279, and shortstop George Davis trailed slightly behind at .277, but they were the leading hitters on a team which collectively batted .230 for the season. The Sox were last in the American League in batting average, hits, home runs, slugging percentage and total bases.

The Series opened amidst snow flurries on October 9 in front of 12,693 fans crammed into the wooden grandstand at the Cubs’ park: West Side Grounds at Polk and Wolcott. The Cubs started their ace, Brown, against the White Sox’s 20-game winner Nick Altrock. Both started strong, but the Sox broke through first, putting a run on the board in the 5th inning when third baseman George Rohe tripled and scored on an error. The Sox added an insurance run in the 6th and made it hold up after the Cubs plated one in the bottom of the inning on a wild pitch. The Sox held on for a 2-1 win and the early Series lead.

The Cubs’ bats woke up in a big way in the second game, played at the home of the Sox, South Side Park on 39th Street (now Pershing Road) between Wentworth and Princeton. In front of 12,595 fans, the Cubs scored three runs in the top of the 2nd and cruised to a 7-1 win over Doc White and the Sox. Steinfeldt went 3-for-3 and shortstop Joe Tinker added a pair of hits to complement winning pitcher Ed Ruelbach’s one-hitter as the Cubs evened the Series.

Over the next two days the Series continued to switch back and forth between the two home ballparks, as the teams traded victories. The Sox took Game 3 behind 12 strikeouts from winning pitcher Big Ed Walsh and a bases-loaded triple by Rohe to score all three runs in a 3-0 win. The next day, Brown evened his record and the Series as the Cubs took a 1-0 win with a seventh inning RBI single by Johnny Evers.

Back at the Cubs’ West Side Grounds the two teams played a wild Game 5, with the Sox coming out on top again 8-6, the fifth consecutive Series game won by the visiting team. The Saturday afternoon game drew the Series’ largest crowd: 23,257. Isbell went 4-for-5; all doubles; and Davis drove in three runs and stole home plate for the Sox. The Cubs were led by Schulte’s three hits, but fell short in a game which included six White Sox errors and combined ten walks.

Facing elimination on Sunday afternoon, the Cubs traveled back to the south side for Game 6. Chance opted to start his ace, Brown, even though he had pitched a complete game on Friday. It proved to be a poor decision, as the Sox hung seven runs on Brown in the first two innings en route to an 8-3 win and six-game Series victory. Right fielder Ed Hahn; who had batted just .227 on the season for the Sox after coming over from the Yankees; had four hits and scored two runs.

The White Sox were World Champions, winners of the first Crosstown World Series in history. The “hitless wonders” had held to form, batting only .198 for the six games, but they got the hits when they needed them, and their pitching held the Cubs juggernaut to a Series average of just .196.

West Side Park during the 1906 World Series

As the Sox celebrated their first world championship, the Cubs prepared for next year. In 1907 they would sweep the Detroit Tigers to win their first title. They topped Detroit again the next season to become MLB’s first back-to-back world champions. On the south side, the Sox waited a full decade before returning to the Series, winning their second title in 1917 over the Giants.

After that, as Illinois baseball fans know well, a long wait ensued. White Sox fans suffered the trauma of the Black Sox scandal of 1919, going without a pennant until 1959 and a world title until 2005. The Cubs won seven more pennants between 1909 and 1945, but failed each time to bring home another World Series trophy. Cursed by billy goats and black cats, Cub fans waited until 2016 for their celebration. The two Chicago teams never again met in the post-season, and only once, 2008, were they both playoff teams in the same year.

The ballparks that hosted the 1906 Series did not last long. The White Sox moved into a new south side park in 1910, one designed by architect Zachary Taylor Davis. They stayed for 80 years before moving across the street. In 1914 Davis also designed a park on the north side for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, but when that team and league folded a couple of years later, the Cubs moved in. They are still there.

Six players from the 1906 Series were eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Davis and Walsh from the Sox; Brown, Tinker, Evers and Chance from the Cubs.

The game and the Series have changed dramatically since 1906. Pitchers rarely throw complete games in the World Series any more, and World Series day games on natural grass in front of 12,000 spectators sitting in wooden grandstands are a thing of the past too. But one thing that has endured through the years is the truth of former Sox and Cubs’ broadcaster Harry Caray’s observation: “You can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.”

In the 1906 World Series; for the first, and thus far only time in history; all the fun was had right here in Illinois.